Archive for Thailand
One of our favorite things to do in Thailand is to visit food markets. The food is varied, delicious and cheap. For example, a dish such as a crab curry with rice can be 50B at a market, but 150B at restaurants and guesthouses.
With Thai street food, each little stall serves one type of food. The ones I’m most familiar with are soups, noodles, curries, Isan salads and fish, grilled meat, and seafood stir fries.
Below are a few photos from the market in Surat Thani.
And here a few photos from street food in Bangkok’s Chinatown:
Eating at Lek & Rut
Yarowat Road, Chinatown
Leaving Ko Samui, we made our way to Ko Phangan. We took the high speed cataram ferry, Lompreyah, from Mae Nam on Samui to Thongsala on Phangan. The ferry was very different from others I’ve been on: it’s a small passenger ferry and it goes really fast. It took maybe 2 minutes to reach its planing speed and was fairly bouncy in the water. We chose this ferry not for its speed but because its departure pier was closest to Bo Phut. The ferry cost a bit more than others, but the cost for the taxi from Bo Phut to the pier was cheaper than other piers used by other ferry companies.
I’d never been to Ko Phagnan before and we weren’t entirely sure which beaches to visit. We eventually settled on a plan by process of elimination. On of the biggest and most popular beaches is Had Rin, on the southern tip. It’s where they have the full moon parties and I think it’s probably where many of the younger backpackers go. I hadn’t read anything really great about the beach itself, so we gave it a pass. There are foir more main sections of beaches to choose from: north of Had Rin, the wast, the north and the northeast. We decided to visit the last three of these areas.
First up was the west. We chose this first because it is closest to where the ferry lands at Thongsala. We chose Had Salad because of reviews we had read, and stayed at Double Duke Bungalows. It turned out that Had Salad and Bo Phut have some similarities. Both beaches seem to have only one less expensive bungalow operation, and both beaches are predominately visited by people from France. Had Salad was very pretty with beautiful sand and clear blue water. The area is like a small cove with a breakwater, and the water is very shallow. This wasn’t the greatest for full out swimming but it was really nice for snorkeling. We saw lots of different fish, some corals, sea urchins and hundreds of sea cucumbers (sometimes referred to as “sea turds”).
Boats and beach, Had Salad
To check out the area around Salad, Grady and I walked to the beach just south, called Had Yao, one day. It was nice, but clearly we made the right choice with Salad.
I’d definitely recommend Had Salad to visitors, but I wonder how long Double Duke will be there. Most of the other hotels fall into the “resort” category, and while they’d be great to stay at, I think they cost close to $200/night. It didn’t seem like Had Salad was on the backpackers/travelers radar, we mostly saw older couples and families. Grady met some French boys and they hung out a bit playing Pokémon Go. For such a small beach, there was a lot of Pokemon action.
From Salad we made our way to Bottle Beach. It was described as being secluded and quiet. I was a bit nervous about it being “too quiet”, and we booked ahead for only two nights. Our hotel was a bit more expensive than previous ones and was pretty booked up, so we could only have two nights there. Most people arrive to Bottle Beach by boat and that’s what we did. First we took a taxi to Chaluk Lum, a small fishing village on the north of Phangan, and then we took a longtail boat to Bottle Beach. I was originally going to hike from Chaluk Lum to BB. The trail goes up over a steep hill with a apparently some nice views along the way, and takes about an hour. However, our taxi driver didn’t want to drive me to the end of the road where the trail starts. I didn’t feel like walking for half an hour down an open dirt road, so I jumped on the longtail boat with everyone else.
Pulling into Bottle Beach was beautiful. The beach is a small crescent lined with white sand. Our resort, Bottle Beach 1 (yes, there’s a Bottle Beach 2), was right on the beach. Two of the resorts are in the beach, and the two at either end are set back a bit. Our rooms were “beach view” and in fact they were right on the front of the beach. Normally I don’t care about that kind of thing too much, but in this setting it was perfect.
Looking at the ocean from our deck
The water was clear and warm and we spent two days lounging around, swimming in the ocean, reading on our deck, and even swimming in the pool a bit.
I think we were all a bit bummed to have to leave BB after only two nights, but that’s how it goes. The one down side to Bottle Beach is that the whole beach gets filled with longtail boats from about noon to 4pm. You can swim around them because they’re about 8 m apart, but it does take away from the beach a bit. The mornings and evenings are lovely though.
Looking back on Bottle Beach as we leave
We then took another longtail from Bottle Beach to the next beach down the coast, Thong Nai Pan Noi. There were three beaches in a row that all sounded pretty good: Thong Nai Pan Noi, Thong Nai Pan Yai, and Had Salat. Salat looked the coolest but some of the accommodation is on a hill which could make it hard for Emma’s foot and the beach was described as not having much shade. Noi was described as more developed than Yai, but that it maybe had the best beach on Phangan.
Thong Nai Pan Noi
Thong Nai Pan Noi’s beach did not disappoint. I imagine that 10 years ago it would be THE best beach to visit. However, we liked the feeling of the quieter Bottle Beach a bit more. The development on TNP Noi was tasteful and the beach itself during the day was actually quieter than Bottle Beach (less boats). I had read about noisy jet skis and our hotel had a note in it asking that visitors do not use jet skis because it threatens the environment. In fact we didn’t see a single jet ski in the area so I assume that somehow they’ve been banned.
From our hotel, Grady and I walked to TNP Yai one day. This beach was quieter than Noi but not as pretty. I think it offers a few good places for backpackers to stay at the south end. It would be a good beach to stay at as well.
TNP Noi had one thing very unique from what we had seen so far: less French amd more Italians!
As I write this we’re on a ferry back to Surat Thani. We left TNP this morning and took a taxi to Thongsala. At the pier we purchased tickets on the Raja ferry. Raja are larger car ferries and there’s no need to book ahead. At the pier there is the “Phangan Tour” ticket booth which sells ferry/bus ticket combos that will take us to the center of Surat Thani, about 200 m from My Place, where we’re spending the night. Raja is said to be a slower ferry, but in reality it won’t make much difference. It’s 4 hours start to finish compared to Lompreyah’s 3.5 hours. Lompreyah stops in Samui along the way, while this ferry does not (we’re on the 11 am ferry, maybe the later ferries also stop at Samui?). The schedule for the Raja is better too, we showed up at the pier at 10:30 and didn’t have to wait around at all. The price is also a lot cheaper, 310B compared to 550B. Finally, the ride is a lot smoother in rougher seas because the boat is so much bigger.
So it’s one night in Surat Thani and then we fly to Bangkok tomorrow. We originally were going to travel overland from the south to Bangkok but we decided that the family would prefer to go from relaxed beach straight to Bangkok and avoid the small challenges that overland brings. In light of the recent bombings in Hua Hin and Surat Thani, I guess flying is also better than stopping in Prachuap Kiri Khan. Unfortunately it’s one more area that I didn’t get to visit in 1991 that I will also miss this time.
The second half of our trip is in the south, in the Gulf if Thailand. We decided to visit two islands, Ko Samui and Ko Phangan. This part of Thailand has its rainy season end in June, so it’s maybe the best place to visit in July and August. We opted to fly from CM to Surat Thani (the main gateway to Ko Samui) because it is only a few more dollars than bus but takes a fraction of the time.
We spent one night in Surat Thani itself. I imagine most people think that even a few hours in ST would be a fee hours wasted, but this small city has its charm. The hotel we stayed at, My Place, was very good and inexpensive. As well, we arrived in a Friday which meant that we got to visit the night market which was only 40 m from our hotel. After being in busy and crammed markets in Bangkok and CM, this one was very relaxed. I managed to get myself a nice bowl of tom yum goong (spicy and sour shrimp soup). I think that if traveling by car, a person could spend a week in the area around Surat Thani.
The next day we took the ferry to Ko Samui. The trip was uneventful and we got a taxi at the pier to take us to our hotel in Bo Phut. This ride was maybe the biggest change I’ve seen in Thailand compared to my previous trip. The whole road to Bo Phut was lined with businesses and shops. 25 years ago it was all jungle. Not only had resorts increased in size but the entire coast was now commercialized.
Bo Phut had a very nice beach which was pretty quiet and the water was great for swimming. We were near the western side at a bungalow operation called Free House. After exploring around for a few days it became apparent that Free House was about the only bungalow operation in the area. Everything else was fancy hotels. Maybe there were a couple of other small hotels but I didn’t see them. We also learned that most of the resorts are owned by French. Just about every westerner we saw on the beach spoke French, that also has been surprising.
On our third day on Samui we grabbed a taxi and headed to Lamai, which is where I stayed last time. There’s been a lot of growth in Lamai but that wasn’t surprising. Beach front resorts and bars covered the whole beach and it was pretty busy. A town had built upon behind the beach with dozens of bars and restaurants. It was moments like this when you see the result of unfettered development. It’s not that Lamai is busier than it used to be, it’s that there are approximately three restaurants per visitor. Ok, I’m exaggerating but for sure the business growth is not self sustaining. There must be a continual cycle of businesses closing and opening.
Lamai beach itself is still great. Beautiful long beach with soft sand and clear water. The south end was pretty quiet, so if you had the money that is where I’d stay. FWIW, I heard more languages than just French in Lamai. French and German dominate with a smattering of people from the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK. I’ve hardly heard a Canadian or American accent, or Australian for that matter. There are signs in Russian all over the place but I have not heard a single person speaking Russian. I suspect that places like Samui are feeling the effects of global money problems. The owner at Free House also echoed this thought.
We lucked out on Samui. Bo Phut’s nice beach and slow pace were perfect for the family. I’d recommend it to anyone, but keep your fingers crossed that places like Free House stay open. If you’re backpacking then maybe Lamai is the next best option, I imagine there must be hostels/guesthouses behind the beach. This also makes me notice another change in Thailand. Hotels and guesthouses seem to cater more to older couples and families. Younger backpackers seem to stay more at hostels now. On my first trip to Thailand, I don’t even think there was much of a hostel industry because the guesthouses were so cheap. That’s not always the case anymore.
After returning to Chiang Mai we had a day booked at the Elephant Nature Park. We chose this elephant experience because the kids were quite keen on seeing elephants and this one in particular seemed quite ethical.
The sanctuary people picked us up at our hotel and it was an hour drive to their park. During the ride they showed a movie about how mistreated elephants ae in Asia. It was quite a disturbing movie, I think Emma may have cried a bit. I guess it was an ok introduction to what the sanctuary is all about. They buy elephants from people in Thailand, typically ones that are injured or too old or sick to work. In Thailand, elephants are used for logging and for tourists’ enjoyment (circus, painting with their trunks, rides, etc). The movie depicts the elephants needing frequent punishment to keep them inline, and shows them as being extremely mentally disturbed. Good times.
At the park we got to feed the elephants, see some baby elephants, and help bath them with water. No riding. I guess it’s not a lot of “activities” but after it was all said and done, it felt very rewarding. Just as our tour was ending, the skies opened up with a bout of monsoon rain. I recommend the Elephant Nature Park.
The next day we left Chiang Mai. It was a nice city and the quieter “old city” made it seem smaller and more intimate. It’s a great place to visit. Coming up next: Ko Samui.
After spending a few days in Chiang Mai, we decided to head out to the hills and spend a couple of days in a small town called Soppong (also called Pang Mapha). There is a well worn backpacking route from CM to Pai to Mae Hong Son, and Soppong is on this route about 1 hour past Pai. Pai has a huge backpacker scene, similar to Khao San road but apparently not many people stop in Soppong.
We went to the bus station and bought tickets for the minibus. The trip would take 4 hours. The first but was ok until we started heading into the hills. This road then gave new meaning to the words “switchback” and “twisty”. I dont recall seeing anything quite like it. Luckily the road surface itself was new and smooth so it wasn’t bumpy.
We made it to Soppong in one piece, but just barely. Everyone was feeling kind of yucky and the only thing that stopped motion sickness was the magic of Gravol. We stayed at guesthouse called Soppong River View, it was really nice. Our balconies overhung the river in a very picturesque setting. The rooms didn’t have ac but it wasn’t really needed with a fan and the cooler temperatures of the higher altitude.
The next day we hired a driver to take us around the area. First we went to Tham Lot and visited one of the big caves. We floated through the cave on a bamboo raft and got off a few times to hike up through branches of the cave.
After Tham Lot we drove through the valleys to see different viewpoints, including karst formations, rice fields, and a small village. I’ll have to wait until I get to my computer before I can upload more images from my dSLR camera.
We only spent one more night in Soppong and then it was back to CM for a few more days and a trip to the elephant sanctuary.
Next entries »
We arrived in Chiang Mai from Siem Reap after connecting switching planes and airports in Bangkok. Timing wise it all went pretty smooth and we basically walked onto a shuttle bus at Suvarnabhumi airport just before it left for Don Muang airport. One interesting thing happened upon our arrival in Chiang Mai, and it’s a good puzzle for you math/probability folk (I know there’s a lot of you!). As we were walking to arrivals, we saw the couple that were staying in the suite beside us at Siem Reap. Out of coincidence, we both:
- had suites beside each other at Tenai hotel
- left the same day
- traveled to Chiang Mai
- arrived at the same time, but took different paths to get there
Chiang Mai is the largest city in the north but right away we could tell that it was waaay smaller than Bangkok. We decided to stay in the “old city” which is a walled section in the center of CM. This where most of the local sites are , along with guesthouses and restaurants.
We stayed at SK House 2, which had nice big rooms with a/c and a small pool. Everyone was tired by the end of the day but I walked to a nearby night market for some food. It was a great little meal, I stopped at three different carts for some pork and rice, an Isaan salad and mango and sticky rice for dessert.
The next 2 days we just poked around the city, checking out wats, museums and more of the local northern food. Everyone liked CM, it was interesting and laid back. Mind you, we didn’t venture out of the old city where things are quieter.
There lots of tours that people can do here, such as cooking schools, elephant parks, zip lining, a “night” safari and of course the famous hilltribe treks. The zip lining looked interesting but super expensive, maybe $140 each. We’re going to visit an elephant park though, after a short trip to a small town in the hills.